Fan power shows its might in Italy
MILAN (Reuters) - Woe betide football clubs who ignore the views of their supporters.
Italian top-flight side Atalanta decided to re-sign former striker Christian Vieri during the close season and unwittingly unleashed a wave of protests from angry fans.
The ex-Italy international played for the Bergamo side two years ago but then quit to join the more glamorous Fiorentina.
After a largely unsuccessful season in Florence, the much-travelled forward has ended up back at Atalanta but the supporters are far from impressed.
Around 50 fans gathered at the training ground to heckle the 34-year-old Vieri on his first day back at the club.
A huge banner criticising his perceived lack of loyalty and humility was unveiled and some fans surrounded his car.
It was not the usual welcome a new signing receives at a club but Vieri was unperturbed.
"These things don't interest me. Everyone is entitled to think what they like. It is not a problem, " he told reporters. "But I did not expect a reaction like that from the fans."
Football fans the world over have begun to feel under-appreciated and ripped off in recent years.
Prices for match tickets and merchandise have risen and fans have seen their beloved clubs sold to rich foreign owners with no connection to their city. Highly-paid foreign coaches and players come and go.
Some supporters have protested but their collective voice has been drowned out by assurances that financial security in a global village is more important than a club's heritage.
In Italy, fans are fighting back.
Atalanta supporters failed to prevent Vieri's return but Luciano Zauri's move from Lazio looks to have been stopped by Fiorentina fans angry that he once stopped a Fiorentina goal with a handball.
Juventus fans were instrumental in the club shelving plans to sign midfielder Dejan Stankovic from fierce rivals Inter Milan.
When news leaked in June that Stankovic was being tracked, bedlam ensued.
Internet message boards demanded the idea be dropped and banners were unfurled at the team's pre-season retreat.
"We always respect the opinion of our fans," Juve chairman Giovanni Cobolli Gigli told reporters.
In fact, Juve largely ignored fans' anger in 2004 when they appointed former AC Milan and AS Roma coach Fabio Capello as manager.
The club won two titles under Capello but they were revoked after Juve were embroiled in a match-fixing scandal and demoted two years ago, before rising back to Serie A.
"When I was a fan I was also very perplexed by the arrival of Capello, who had always been a rival of Juventus. Then we saw what he succeeded in doing," Cobolli Gigli said.
In the past, Italian supporters were heavily linked to their clubs with some of the right-wing 'ultra' fan groups having real power in how things were run.
The situation has changed and Italian fans have suffered more than most in recent years, with hooliganism by a minority leading to a crackdown on travel and ticket allocations.
Kick-off times are switched or away fans banned at short notice for matches played thousands of kilometres away.
Now, it seems, the fans have had enough and are making themselves heard.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)
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